The Penguins are in trouble this season, but it’s in no way the kind of trouble that would warrant any significant overhauls to the team. The one major change that should be carefully considered is the man behind the bench. Therrien is not getting the best out of his team, period. There is no line combination that he hasn’t tried that is going to be the magic formula that makes this team a legitimate contender. There seems to be no system followed by the penguins defensively, at least not one of any efficiency. The one thing that needs to be changed, the powerplay, has remained virtually the same for two seasons. This team needs a hard systematic coach. We have the one-on-one skill in Crosby and Malkin that can score in what seems like any situation (albeit they haven’t found the back of the net in recent games, but it is not through a lack of effort or chances.. they are getting many chances). In my opinion, coaching is number one on the list.
Now lets look at goaltending.. do we need insurance in goal? Yes.. did we need it before Fleury got hurt? I don’t think so. Fleury had shown his ability to win games, just like he did last season, for the two weeks prior to his injury. He was never the spectacular goaltender that could steal games every night for the penguins. He would steal a few victories, but his main calling was playing good enough to win on most nights. Now that we have two vital months ahead without Fleury, we are in trouble, and it’s affecting the rest of the team. No one is in that comfort zone that we saw during last season. Sabourin and Conklin will not put this team in the playoffs, and its not specifically their play that hurts the most, it’s the team’s attitude when either is in net that is ultimately the cause. What we need in a backup is someone with a little bit more of a veteran presence, one that will push Fleury just a little bit more to be the best Penguin’s goalie. The problem is the cost, how can you justify spending a couple million dollars on a tender who will play maybe 20-25 games when you have Staal and Malkin who need to be signed long-term. All things considered, Sabourin was not a bad choice as a backup goalie, but he is not the starter we need for the next two months (I realize that both Sabourin and Conklin have one way contracts which poses problems in acquiring another goaltender, but realistically neither one is going to be picked up off of wavers if they are sent to the AHL to clear cap space).
Injuries aside, I think that this team only has one major need, and that is a scoring right-winger to play with Crosby (need #2). Signing a quality UFA that has the required talent will never happen under the current penguin’s financial system. We can only dream of a guy like Heatley filling the back of the net alongside Crosby.. but right now that doesn’t look to be an option. So who are we willing to give up for a REAL scoring winger? I believe that if their name isn’t Crosby or Malkin we have to at least give it some consideration. You can’t aquire anyone of value if you don’t give up something in return. So what’s after the top line? I love the way Armstrong plays, but he is not a first line winger. He would be much better suited on the rugged energy line with Roberts and either Talbot or Kennedy at centre. Kennedy has shown a lot of hard work and some offensive production. I belive, at this point anyways, that he has all but eliminated EC from the future here in Pittsburgh. I like Staal-Malkin-Sykora as a second unit, they just need to start capitalizing on their many chances. Laraque’s play this season assures me that he belongs on this team. He no longer seems like a liability on the ice and has shown to be very difficult to deal with in the offensive corners. When this team is healthy, and they have aquired a quality wing for Crosby, things start to look pretty dangerous:
Extras: Hall, Christensen
Our defensive group is also better than a lot of people give it credit for. I for one believe Sydor should stay. He is exactly the veteran help that this blue line needs, and his defensive play has been steadily improving all year (he will be a huge asset come the playoffs, provided we are there). The impact Gonchar has on this team is clearly defined by the powerplay, it has been useless without him (although lately even he hasn’t helped the PP situation—see coaching above). Letang is still on his learning curve, but it is obvious that once he gets all those bad junior habits out of his game (soft, or last-second defensive zone passes) he is going to be a quality Penguins defenseman for years to come. I believe Whitney is in the same boat as Letang, although Ryan is a couple years ahead and slowly becoming the elite defenseman we envisioned. Eaton so far has been Mr. Steady, and he is the best defensive defenseman we have on this team (there is reason you hardly notice him during games, he rarely makes costly mistakes). However, this team still needs that legitimate shut down defenseman (need #3). Neither Orpik nor Scuderi has played consistently badly this season, but neither are top four talents at this point anyways (both make excellent insurance policies though). I also do not agree with the 5-man rotation set forth by Therrien.. show us your six guys and stick with them, defense is a position where you can afford to be deep and who ever is the odd man out is still going to get his share of playing time.
So what do the rest of the Pens fans out there think about our current situation?..